“All cruelty springs from weakness” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Author Shelah L. Maul’s book, ‘Hausa Blues’ is a memoir about the life of a smart and educated woman from a well to do Cameroon family who goes against her traditions and takes control of her own fate by challenging the patriarchal and confining society of hers. Sakina was expected to do what any other woman in her tribe had been conditioned to follow, marry a man from their own tribe, bear him many children, sway to his every whim and fancy and not interfere when her husband settles for a polygamous marriage. But she challenged every arbitrary rule and restriction imposed upon the women in her society by being brave and openly dissenting against the archaic and barbaric traditions. This story is about her escape from the clutches of her seemingly sealed fate and how she found redemption for herself, thus proving that fairy tale endings can exist outside of fiction too.
This is a beautifully written book which describes the state of women of not just a particular community, it does, but it is also a universal story of the suffering women everywhere go through. Even the ignorant of us can’t deny the fact that even in seemingly developed countries of the world, but with their patriarchal societies following stubborn and outdated values, women still have to go through assault, bullying, rape, murder, exploitation to the level of being persistently impregnated and thus leading to a virtual enslavement in their own home. The only difference perhaps is that women in more developed countries have a better chance at escape and redemption because of a more mature social/political environment. So Shelah’s book not only sheds light on the remarkable persistence and courage of a single individual, but it also reminds us to take notice of the problems brewing in our own backyards too.
Hausa Blues has got a first person narrative as described by Sakina that is able to portray all the right emotions as one would find in a namesake novel on the same subject, but here the narrator retains the fly on the fall obscurity of narration, never trying to impress you or gain your sympathy, she just says it as it is. And yet you won’t be able to stop yourself from feeling Sakina’s pain and empathizing with her condition. There are moments in the book when you will be too emotionally gobsmacked to respond to some of the images and you will have to try hard to convince yourself that this is real, and not some fictional story. That being said, you will find yourself cheering for Sakina every time she hits back and wins small little battles against her oppressors. Case in point is Sakina’s escape plan, the preparation and the execution of a daring operation, all makes for a tense reading.
Shelah doesn’t lead you down the path of this book with her kid gloves on, she doesn’t try to ring in the beauty of the environment or extrapolate the colours and scents of the culture, and instead she just shocks you into getting your full attention by introducing the harsh reality right in your face early on. She has been able to deftly capture the mindset of a young woman trying to battle the odds even when God and nature seems to have been working against her. She has also been able to successfully track Sakina’s innocence and naivety from her younger years and her progress toward a more mature adulthood. The narrative sometimes goes back and forth extrapolating one of Sakina’s childhood memories with that of her adult reality, letting you enjoy a rich tapestry of memories and emotional moments from Sakina’s childhood and her adult life.
Even if you find it difficult to believe Sakina’s story or are relieved that she was finally able to escape her fate, what should really worry you is that there are thousands more Sakinas out there in the world today, their skin tones, their religion, their names and their nationality may be different but their sufferings remain the same. And this information should worry us, it should spoil our moods, ruin our mornings and perhaps then someone might find it in their heart to stand up and talk about it like Shelah has, and thus try and bring a change into the lives of these women.
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